Melted bead suncatchers are not only beautiful to look at, but they’re a great way to recycle or up-cycle an excess of beads. I used to have a neighbor who designed stained glass suncatchers for profit. They were beautiful – she used intricate glass pieces and frames for support. You or I may not have that level of expertise, but this is the next best thing!
This technique was inspired by the “Makeit and Bakeit” kits that were popular with kids in the 80s. (If you’re Gen-X like me, you probably remember them well.) I had some of these – you’d get a frame and some different colored particles, and you’d drop the particles in different spaces, then bake them to set in the oven – the particles would melt to form beautiful designs.
If you’ve got a glut of beads taking up space somewhere in your craft room this is the perfect way to use them up!
You’ll need a bead assortment – they need to be plastic, not glass, and the transparent kind so the light will shine through them, just like real suncatchers – the more, the better. In others words, err on the side of more, just in case you come up short with something and need extras.
- Translucent beads in assortment of colors
- Nonstick cooking spray
- Pair of tweezers
- A metal compartment (cookie cutters, small pan, etc.)
Try to choose a color assortment of beads that are limited to three or four colors – too many different color beads may produce a muddy mess. So best to stick with a few and if you’ve got them, make use of clear, non-colored beads too. The ones I’m using are clear, red, yellow, and green.
I wanted to do a “positive/negative space” approach…I’m using a round pie pan that is 9″ in diameter and placing a cookie-cutter (yes, one of the same ones I used a few years ago) in the center which will create a shape cutout after the beads melt. I do have a cake pan with straight sides and for awhile, I thought about using that one instead, since it doesn’t have sloped sides like this one does. I mulled it over and since I had 2 pie pans that were kind of old I made that a tie-breaker. It does mean that I will have to be extra careful to keep the beads from edging up the sides.
Before you arrange your beads, spray the bottom with some non-stick cooking spray. Also, be sure to spray a little no-stick cooking spray to the outside of the cookie cutters, too, so they don’t stick to the beads.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Since I had a combination of large and small beads, I wanted to begin with the larger ones. These are the “sunburst” style….I’ve been playing with these since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Loved loved loved beads. I placed the red ones first and then proceeded with green yellow, etc. That “foamy” looking white stuff you see is the cooking spray remnants. Don’t worry, it WILL come off later!
Make sure that when you spread the beads around, that they are evenly dispersed…this will prevent clumpy areas or bare spots. You may want to use an instrument like a pair of tweezers to move individual beads around. After placing the sunburst star beads, I proceeded with the small round ones. Also, shake the pan lightly so any “straggler” beads fall into spaces where they should be.
Here is my final arrangement (and making sure the cookie-cutter was evenly centered)
I do want to make this clear – don’t be too stingy with your bead arrangement! The result will be so much better if you double up on the layer. Pony beads which are a little larger on average, can do well in a single layer, but if most of your beads are kind of flat or small, I’d double up the layer. After all they are still plastic, and a thin plastic layer will end up being very delicate and may show empty gaps or be prone to breakage.
When I first tried this project (In 2020, I think it was – right around when the pandemic started and I was looking for something new to do, no doubt) here were the results with a single layer of beads…. Although they did look pretty, there were gaps in the middle, and very delicate after extracting the from the mold. Fortunately I was able to remelt with another layer of beads so they turned out better.
The heart-shape didn’t turn out well -I ended up doing a re-melt with additional beads, but he diamond shape , you can see here it’s got a few gaps. it still turned out to fuse together well, enough to be display-able:
Now your bead arrangement can go into the oven. With my first batch, it took about 15 minutes for the beads to be totally melted. Ovens do vary, so this is strictly a guideline. You may need to crack a window for ventilation as there will be some weird aroma from the plastic as it melts. Recently we upgraded to a new oven (an end of the year sale) and it only took 10 minutes for the beads to fully melt.
As it turns out, unbeknowst to me at the time, this is a convection oven, which are more energy efficient as they are built with an internal fan that circulates heat better, which may explain why it didn’t take as long as my old conventional oven.
Afterward, turn the oven off and let everything cool. If they are at least warm to the touch, they should pop out of their compartments easily.
There will be a little residue on them from the cooking spray – it will easily wipe off with a paper towel.
Hanging Up Your Suncatchers
To hang up your suncatchers, you can use a hot glue gun or e6000 and dab a little on the back and attach a cord, or do like I did, drill a tiny hole near the top with a small bit (I put a piece of tape over that part so it wouldn’t crack under pressure) Then I ran some clear fishing line through the hole and ta-da.
Here is what the cookie-cutter suncatchers I made in 2020 look like – I think the fact that I let the plastic discs overlap a little on each other created some really dope textural effects.
The same heart-shaped cutter, I put in the center of this round pan and spread the beads out around it, to create a really unique “positive/negative space” kind of look.
For the small, round ones that I used a muffin tin for the mold, I arranged them into a pattern…Another thing you can do with resulting suncatchers this size is add them to windchimes and garden display pieces (I eventually ended up doing just this.) They’ll work great as colorful focal points, you can string beads between them (if you have any more left, lol) This display below, I finally took down…
And now, for the big one I did the most recently. I did NOT have an easy time drilling the hanger holes…I finally gave up, fearing I might shatter it…and I ended up glueing on the back a golden cord instead. I also added a few pretty beads here and there for fun – and yes, maybe one to hide the failed holes at the top. (cute little butterflies – I thought them very fitting.) If you look carefully, the patterns of the beads almost has a “floral” appearance.